The drug kratom is being used by some people as an alternative to heroin and other illegal drugs even though it, too, can be addictive, The New York Times reports.
Kratom is increasingly popular and easily available, the article notes.
Some people using kratom go back to using heroin, which is stronger and less expensive.
Powdered forms of kratom, which come from a leaf found in Southeast Asia, are sold in head shops, gas station convenience stores and online.
The drug is categorized as a botanic dietary supplement. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot restrict the sale of kratom unless it is proved unsafe, or manufacturers claim it treats a medical condition. The FDA banned the import of kratom into the United States in 2014.
Kratom is not controlled under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has listed kratom as a “drug and chemical of concern,” and notes on its website that there is no legitimate medical use for kratom in the United States.
According to the DEA, at low doses, kratom produces stimulant effects with users reporting increased alertness, physical energy, and talkativeness. At high doses, users experience sedative effects.
Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont and Wyoming have banned kratom. The Army has forbidden its use by soldiers, according to the newspaper.
“It’s a fascinating drug, but we need to know a lot more about it,” said Dr. Edward W. Boyer, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, who has studied kratom. “Recreationally or to self-treat opioid dependence, beware — potentially you’re at just as much risk” as with an opiate, he said.
Kratom bars have opened in South Florida, as well as Colorado, New York and North Carolina. The bars sell brewed varieties of kratom, in plastic bottles that look like fruit juice.